Motorcyclist Hit by Drunk or Distracted Driver?

This video features Claude Wyle, a Personal Injury attorney based in California.

San Francisco Accident Attorney Claude Wyle

Video Transcript:

Claude Wyle:

The civil case seeks money damages against the offending drunk driver, that is where the survivor actually gets compensated.

Judy Maggio:

If you're riding a motorcycle and you're hit by a driver who's intoxicated or distracted, what are your rights? We're gonna find out right now when we ask the lawyer. Hi everybody, I'm Judy Maggio with AskTheLawyers.com, and my guest today is San Francisco lawyer Claude Wyle, who has spent many years representing motorcycle riders. Before we get started, we wanna remind you if you wanna ask Claude any questions about your situation, just head to the askthelawyers.com site and click on the button at the upper right hand corner that says, Ask a Lawyer, and that's where you can ask your questions. Thanks so much for being with us today, Claude.

Claude Wyle:

Thank you so much for having me, Judy. It's nice to meet you.

Judy Maggio:

Nice to meet you too. My first question, in your practice, have you found that motorcycle drivers usually are the ones at fault or do most bikers do you know and represent ride very carefully around cars?

Claude Wyle:

In my practice, I find that about 90% of the time when there's a collision, it's not the motorcyclist's fault, but it's the fault of another motorist. This is... It's prevalent. You think all motorcyclists are crazy, the opposite is true, most motorcyclists are actually paying more attention to the road and are riding less distracted than most motorists and cars or trucks or buses. It's very difficult to be sending a text and looking at your phone when you've got two hands on the handle bars and your face is looking straight ahead. motorcyclists tend to look straight ahead exactly at what they're supposed to be looking at, and they only look to either side a little bit. So that plays a huge part in whose at fault.

Judy Maggio:

So let's say a biker was struck by a car and perhaps the driver may have been intoxicated, may have had a few drinks, either below or above the legal limit. Is there a way to prove that, and how does it affect the case?

Claude Wyle:

Well, the only way to prove the other driver's intoxication is if the police who are reporting on the collision notice something and perform some tests, and then if the other driver goes through a blood test or a breathalyzer or something of the like is... You're really never gonna get somebody admitting to, well, yeah, I had too much to drink, but the police didn't check, so you depend on the police to do that, and a lot of times the person is prosecuted, but there's really not a good way in through the civil justice system, to start that process. We don't really have a right at the scene to intrude upon that person medically as the police do, so there's not much of a way to prove it ourselves, and we rely upon the public law enforcement to do it for us.

Judy Maggio:

So say a driver is indeed criminally prosecuted for drunk driving. Does the prosecuting attorney represent the motorcycle, the injured biker in that criminal case, or can a biker obtain damages in a criminal case? How does all that work?

Claude Wyle:

Thank you very much for asking a great question. The District Attorney represents the people. You always see on TV, the people versus... Right, they don't represent the victim, they might sort of represent the victim, but they really don't do anything to get the victim compensated. That takes place in the civil justice system, and you don't need the district attorney to prosecute and try to throw somebody in jail or fine them in order to proceed with your civil court complaint and your civil trial, so it's the civil justice system that actually looks after... I don't like to use victim, but that's what the criminal justice system calls them... I call them survivors. Okay, so if a motorcyclist is struck by a drunk driver, the district attorney will probably prosecute and they can bring this all the way to trial, but you don't need the criminal case going to trial in order to proceed with your civil case. The civil case seeks money damages against the offending drunk driver, that is where the survivor actually gets compensated. There are two kinds of accountability, one: accountability, going to jail, losing your license, being fined. Two: accountability, having to pay the damages that you've caused if you are a drunk driver and you hurt someone, whether that's a motorcyclist, a bicyclist, a pedestrian or another motorist, drunk drivers are accountable under the civil justice system as well.

Judy Maggio:

Interesting distinction there in an important one. So what if the biker suspects that the driver was distracted by a cellphone while driving, what can a lawyer do to see if that's actually true?

Claude Wyle:

Well, there are ways to subpoena cell phone records. It's kind of round about and it's kind of difficult, but we do it often because sadly, these days, many, many drivers who are involved in collisions are... They're distracted at the time. And there are records and you've gotta get the right cell tower, and it's rather technical and it's difficult to punch through the rights of privacy, but we do it, and oftentimes, you get somebody who actually admits to it, a lot of times they don't admit, but you can look and see whether at that time somebody's cell phone was on, and if at that time they were also on a conversation. Now you go plus or minus the time of the collision because when the police arrived, they never get that precisely right. They never get down to the second, what time this collision happened, so you've got a kind of a range and you get somebody's cell phone records to determine if they were on the phone and using the phone at that time. Texting is of course, more difficult. But then you get the texting records as well. It's important, and we do it, and it's proven very helpful in making distracted drivers accountable, which is our job.

Judy Maggio:

Great information today, Claude, thank you so much for answering our questions.

Claude Wyle:

Absolutely, I'm here to answer all your questions, and if anybody has a question, I'm happy to answer them. My partner, George Cholos, and I spend a substantial amount of our day answering questions for people who call. Even if we don't take the case, we'd like to help people, particularly motorcyclists and bicycles, we're part of those communities, and we really enjoy making a difference and helping when we can.

Judy Maggio:

Well, we appreciate you sharing your expertise today. That's gonna do it for this episode of Ask the Lawyers. Our guest has been San Francisco lawyer Claude Wyle. Don't forget if you wanna ask Claude any questions about your situation, it is easy, just go to askthelawyers.com, click the button at the top of the page that says Ask a Lawyer, and it doesn't cost anything to ask. Thank you so much for watching today, I'm Judy Maggio with AskTheLawyers.com.

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